Your questions answered by a  Hollywood professional

A bit of Hollywood humor 

Updated Sept 17, 2018 

Screenwriting Help E-Mail Blog

Updated Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mail Blogs - The Archives.

This week's question?

I'm working on a sitcom. How do you write funny?

Ronald C. New Jersey

This week's Answer

Funny You Should Mention It

Funny you should ask that question, Ronald. That was a weak attempt at humor. Some who read it may have tittered, but most probably groaned. Comedy is relative. If Einstein had been funnier, he might have also written The Theory of Comedic Relativity. (I think his hair was funny enough.) And what I mean by "comedic relativity" is that you might need a relative in the business to make it as a comedic writer. Another weak attempt at humor. 

The above is only one style of humor, which is called "playing on words". I like to use that style, playing with words. There are many styles, many approaches, many books, blogs, and authorities on the subject. I, myself, do not claim to be one of these authorities. But I have written several sitcoms, written for stand-up comedy, skits, shows, radio comedies and screenplay comedies. What I'm getting at is that I know what I think is funny. And THAT'S where you always start when you want to "write funny": with yourself.

A trap and a mistake is to try to write what you think others think is funny. It will never work. You'll be caught in a whirling, endless whirlpool, not knowing which way is up, trying to figure out what everybody else thinks his funny.  Instead, like all the great comedic writers -- screenwriters, novelists, essayists, comic strip writers, bloggers, playwrights, stand-up comedians, etc. -- they draw you into their unique point of view, their unique way of looking at the world, into their sense of humor.

I also happen to be working on a sitcom with two other writers, and the only way we've gotten this far and finished one script and are working on the next -- and have been laughing for years and every time we write and even read the sitcom -- is because the three of us have a similar sense of humor. We write to please ourselves. In a sense, we write comedy so that we can entertain ourselves and make ourselves laugh. 

If you think your writing is funny, it's funny. To you. And that's all that matters. 

Of course, we want others to laugh, too, including comedy TV producers, so that they'll pay us a lot of money so they can shoot our show, and then we want the viewers to laugh and like our show so the producer of our funny show will think it's so funny and so successful that he'll want to shoot many more seasons of our show so we can become famous funny writers and other producers who are looking for funny material will hire us so we can do the same thing over and over again and make a lot more money and have more success until they're cancelled because viewers aren't laughing as much anymore and the money stops coming coming in and we're no longer successful funny writers.

And that's when you really need to be able to laugh.


Doug Herman


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